We pick our running clothes as a form of armor when we go to battle the roads—when we line up to race or attempt an impossible workout.
That’s what I did that morning. I dressed for 3x3km tempo. I was nervous. It was the first really hot day we had had in weeks. I was hormonal and felt heavy.
I told him two days before I was a grump. He asked me to watch a puppy. When I thanked him on the way home he smirked like he knew it changed my world that day.
He didn’t know how much he would change my world.
I picked out my blue and black shorts with a pocket.
I hate those shorts.
A skinny strapped top—minimal tan lines, you know.
Tempo shoes. Double-knotted.
I was again newly dedicated. Which meant committing to every rehab and pre-run drill known to (wo)man. I dragged ass prepping for the run, which meant I was still home when she texted—in typical baby sister fashion, not wanting to encroach on her big brother’s freedom, but curious she hadn’t heard from him.
I was curious, too. I’d taken note the night before that it was the first time we’d gone a full day without even a text since he cannonballed on me at the pool, but chalked it up to the “man flu” after he’d spent the weekend on a boys’ trip.
I grabbed my earbuds and watch, doubled back for my credit card and walked to his unit. Figuring I would probably have to nip down to the pharmacy and grab him some Pedialyte before hitting the path to train.
I never made it to the store.
The run didn’t happen.
A knock on his door. His dog barking. An unanswered phone call. His sister arriving. 911.
Next, I’m in his apartment. Crouching beside him with my hand on his chest until the police come. He shouldn’t be alone anymore. Keeping his little sister out. Flipping between confusion, sorrow, hysteria and an awkward calmness.
Averting my eyes from him. Looking at the double-knots of my tempo flats.
I hate running.
My hand still feels cold.
I’d dressed to ready myself to battle through a workout. I was armored to run.
As someone who grew up with less than and wearing my brother’s hand me downs, I’m someone who never quite feels like I’m dressed appropriately. But I’ve learned to feel confident in my running apparel. My suit of armor.
My armor was insufficient that morning.
I wore the skinny strap tank for the next 4 days. I showered on day 5.
I didn’t run. I couldn’t. My running clothes still seem insufficient to protect me—heal me—to hide me. To help me.
My struggles with food and sleep relapsed. Even in that fog I knew better than to force myself to run. Running—no, training for an Olympic bid—seemed so pointless.
Running is never pointless.
It. Just. Felt. Wrong.
The food I did manage to eat was mostly garbage. Most sleep happening after 4 a.m. and before 6. I’ve learned since—especially during hard times—that I don’t know how to let good in. That even means in the form of food and rest.
How can I? When every good I’ve celebrated comes with such cost on the front end and always is followed by some hardship previously unfathomable. And that’s not me asking for a pity party.
It’s just been my world.
In 2016 I competed at the Olympics.
That year I lost my aunt to cancer, my friend committed suicide, and my dad overdosed.
In 2017 I battled sepsis in hospital for 8 days and my grandma died.
In 2018 I had hip surgery.
In 2019 I had endometriosis surgery.
Throughout all of that I kept battling to run fast again. I armored myself for every run.
I kept piling on the miles in Kenya under the assumption that it would make me ok. My family wondering why I was crying while in my happy place.
I was sad. I was alone. I kept losing and no one understood my loss.
I kept battling for my “partner” to show care.
I kept waiting for magic.
In 2020 the world shut down and my heart-and-soul grandma died.
In 2021 I find him on his bathroom floor.
How is my running body and brain supposed to be ok when my heart keeps breaking?
We all believe in magic happening and I do believe. But those magical performances come with consistent hard work. I believe in the magic, but I’m missing a key spell ingredient. A body that lets me put in the work.
Nothing about me or my life has been consistent for the past five years. Nothing about my world has been recognizable for the past five weeks.
My Olympic bid—if we are being honest—was actually an Olympic hope. And for that hope to become a reality I needed everything to go perfectly these last few weeks.
And I’m ok with that.
I am—he was—my life is—perfectly imperfect.
I’m learning to accept good back in.
Food doesn’t taste like dust. Sleep doesn’t always mean unbearable darkness.
I will get back to a new normal.
My running gear won’t seem so insufficient.
But until then please stop telling me to buck up.
Stop making me feel like a failure for acknowledging that I’m not ok. That after five years of maintaining survival mode I’ve decided to take a minute.
I deserve to thrive.
I’m tough. That’s how I’m known. And I still am. Stop making me feel weak for deciding this isn’t a pain I have to just swallow.
Stop telling me to line up, “cuz who knows?” I am the one—just me—who has kept lining up. Kept showing up. Hoping for something magical. And I can tell you the low is only lower when that magical performance doesn’t happen.
This isn’t a fairytale. My life is a freak show.
And I’m ok with that. I’ve navigated the ugly bits before and I’ll continue to do so.
But I have earned some grace.
I have earned the right to say “I’m not ok” and actually listen to myself.
He didn’t mean for me to see him that way. He didn’t mean to falter. He didn’t know this would be the outcome.
He isn’t the reason why I’m not going to Tokyo. But he is my reason why I’ll be ok.
He fought every day to own his shit.
It’s due time I owned mine.
Right now I’m going through the motions. You don’t make an Olympic team by just pretending. But for now all I have is going through the motions.
I keep setting up my life to prepare for happiness. But I just heard a quote that took the air from my lungs: “You can’t wait until life isn’t hard anymore to be happy.”
There’s no place I can move to—run to—to be happy. And therefore, I have to acknowledge I cannot run from this.
Going through the motions is enough for now. Eventually I will be able to tap into my emotions.
I’m envious of the Kate VB comeback races. She found the magic. But it came through her own battling through utter shit to do it.
I’ll have my Kate VB moment. It just doesn’t have to be tomorrow.
And I’m ok with that.